EPA Won't Regulate Greenhouse Gases
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Here's the message from the Bush administration to anyone anticipating new global warming regulations: Wait for the next president. That's the gist of an EPA report out today. The report concludes that global warming gases could create public health problems. But it also argues these problems can't be solved by air pollution laws like the Federal Clean Air Act.
NPR's John Nielsen has the story.
JOHN NIELSEN: This report was supposed to be the Bush administration's answer to a Supreme Court decision issued last fall. The court told the EPA to decide whether global warming gases are creating public health risks. An official finding to that effect would have forced the agency to start looking for ways to cut global warming gases, but there is no such finding in this thousand-page report basically because it's the work of a hung jury made up of White House officials and EPA staffers.
In one section, global warming experts at the EPA linked climate change to hotter heat waves, new diseases, bigger storms and several other public health risks. In another, representatives of other White House agencies say they do not agree. In a preface to the report, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson says the result is a non-binding document.
Mr. STEPHEN JOHNSON (Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency): It's important to note that none of the views or alternatives represent agency decisions or policy recommendations. It is premature to do so.
NIELSEN: This argument shouldn't be surprising given that the White House has been warding off proposals to start making global warming decisions for seven years now. President George W. Bush himself took up the cause at a White House press conference a few months back. The president said using the Clean Air Act to control global warming would produce an economic train wreck.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: It can also force the government to regulate smaller users and producers of energy, from schools and stores to hospitals and apartment buildings. This will make the federal government act like a local planning and zoning board, have a crippling effect on our (unintelligible) economy.
NIELSEN: That's a point of view shared by officials of the White House Office of Management and Budget and directly contradicted by the global warming experts who wrote the first draft of this report.
John Walke is a climate change expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Mr. JOHN WALKE (Director, Clean Air Project, Natural Resources Defense Council): What EPA staff have told them is the facts and the law don't bear out their bias. In fact, the Clean Air Act can be used productively and responsibly to control green house gas pollution. That will not result in a train wreck, as the White House has said, and frankly that's not something the White House can tolerate.
NIELSEN: A copy of that early draft was obtained by NPR. It contained no formal calls for limits on emissions of climate change gases, but it did conclude that problems linked to global warming were a threat to public health. It also contained what's been described as a legal roadmap to the potentially useful greenhouse gas reduction programs.
But the OMB wanted none of that, apparently. An EPA official who worked on the report says OMB officials tried repeatedly to strip out of the report all references to public health risks. He also attempted to add language that described the Clean Air Act as a broken law.
In the end, EPA administrator Johnson chose to publish almost all of those conflicting arguments, which, according to Jeffrey Holmstead, is not a bad thing if it means new regulations won't be coming soon. Holmstead is a former EPA official who now heads the environmental strategy division at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. He's long feared that new controls could end up driving power plants and factories out of the United States.
Mr. JEFFREY HOLMSTEAD (Head, Environmental Strategies Group, Bracewell & Giuliani): If we adopt climate change policies that increase their energy cost, they will effectively have no choice if they're going to compete internationally. In that case, not only do you push manufacturers out of the U.S. and lose the jobs and the economic benefits of these manufacturing industries but you just moved the emissions somewhere else.
NIELSEN: Environmentalists can't challenge this report in court because it makes no formal proposals. What that means essentially is that the job of cutting global warming gases now belongs to the next administration.
John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington.
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